Saturday, July 25, 2009

April & Oliver

Book No: 41
Title: April & Oliver
Author: Tess Callahan
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 7/25/09
No. of Pages: 326
Rating: 3/5*****

I was looking forward to this book based on a review I read in my local paper. I enjoy stories about star-crossed relationships, where two people seem to be destined to be together and somehow things just never work out right; as an added bonus the book was set in my home of Long Island, so I was looking forward to some local flavor. I was disappointed on both counts, the book could have been set anywhere and the relationship between April & Oliver seemed rather dysfunctional.

April is clearly a troubled woman, looking for love with the wrong kind of men, obviously keeping some secrets about her past. Oliver is the perfect man, he does all the right things and everyone loves him. The two grew up together as family related by marriage, but not blood relatives. They are the best of childhood friends but as often happens go their separate ways when Oliver leaves for college. Now Oliver is back in town, engaged to the lovely Bernadette and he is drawn to helping April when her brother dies in a car accident.

This is very much a character driven story but the characters often seemed stereotypical –April is tragic but good, Oliver is the golden boy, Bernadette is all too understanding, Oliver’s brother Al is a bachelor always on the prowl – all people I have met in books before. Even Nana, who was my favorite character, was a nice, slightly befuddled yet well meaning grandmother. Nothing groundbreaking in the writing here; you know what will happen in the end, although it isn’t picture perfect it is certainly what you are waiting for. On the whole I found it a good if predictable story.

Monday, July 20, 2009

When Will There Be Good News?

Book No: 40
Title: When Will There Be Good News
Author: Kate Atkinson
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 7/18/09
No. of Pages: 388
Rating: 4/5*****

This is the third book by Kate Atkinson to feature Jackson Brodie.

Once again Kate Atkinson has created a string of mysteries that slowly come together, as each of the various characters secrets are revealed. Like an onion, as you peel back one layer of the story another layer is revealed until you get to the heart of the matter.

Dr. Jo Hunter is the only survivor of a horrific crime that occurred thirty years ago. Neil Hunter is Jo’s ne’er do well husband and Reggie Chase is the Hunter’s baby sitter with a secret or two of her own. When Dr. Hunter and her son disappear, and Mr. Hunter starts fabricating some odd stories about where she is, Reggie takes it upon herself to find the missing doctor and child. She reveals her suspicions to Louise Munroe, the chief investigator in Edinburgh, who doesn’t give them much credence at first. At the same time Jackson Brodie is hurtling, literally, towards a climactic and life changing event that places him in the middle of the mystery.

As usual the plotting is intricate and the characters are so well developed that they begin to seem real to the reader. Although Louise and Jackson still have unresolved feelings for each other, they both take a back seat to the real star of this book, Reggie Chase, a survivor and a fighter for what she believes in. Atkinson deftly weaves all the plot lines together for an ending with more than one surprise, and a hint at what may be next for Louise as well as a major and unexpected change in Brodie’s life. Looking forward to the next book, although it is at least a year away.

A Separate Country

Book No: 39
Title: A Separate Country
Author: Robert Hicks
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 7/14/09
No. of Pages: 419
Rating: 3.5/5*****

I am not a huge Civil War buff, so I was unfamiliar with the story of John Bell Hood, upon whose life this book is based on. It is sometimes quite odd to read a novelization of a person’s life as you frequently wonder where the truth is and where the fiction begins. Suffice to say that John Bell Hood’s life was quite tragic. He was a well known, though perhaps not so well liked General, who lost a leg and the use of an arm during the war. He moves to New Orleans to rebuild his life and marries Anna Marie Hennan; over the course of the years they have eleven children. Yet General Hood is an abysmal failure at business and bankrupts his family, leaving them penniless and eventually orphaned as yellow fever ravages the city.

This was at times a very difficult book to read, for the character of General Hood is not very likeable throughout much of the book; it was at times quite difficult to see what attracted his wife to him. However over the course of the story there is redemption for the General, who begins to come to terms with the choices he has made and seeks forgiveness for some of his failings as his life comes to an end. The story succeeds mostly because of its vivid depiction of life in New Orleans after the war. There are times you can almost feel the heat and miasma of the city enveloping you; you can relish in the coolness of the ice house as the general and his acquaintances seek relief there. You can hear, see and smell the life all around you, that is how lush the descriptions are.

This story is told through journals and diaries of John Hood, Anna Marie and a former soldier Eli Griffin. Each of these voices is distinct yet at times their retelling of stories would over lap which often seemed redundant. The book is also very long and at times moves a bit too slowly, but in general I found it extremely well written, if steeped in sadness. Definitely a good read for any fan of historical fiction.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Book No: 38
Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 7/15/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 5/5*****

This book is so aptly named, because it focuses on both the bitter and sweet times in the life of Henry Lee and his first love Keiko Okabe. The story goes back and forth in time, from 1942-45 and 1986. The story of Henry, a Chinese-American, and Keiko, a Japanese- American, and their friendship during the war years is told in flashback when Henry learns that a collection of items left behind at the Panama Hotel have been found. These were items stored there when many Japanese Americans living in Seattle were ‘relocated’ and basically interred in concentration camps. The finding of these possessions brings back a flood of memories of Henry and Keiko’s friendship that turned to love, even after Keiko’s family was uprooted from their home and sent to Camp Harmony and later Idaho.

I have always been fascinated by stories and books that relate to this time period and the brutality of the relocation of so many Americans simply because of their ethnicity. It was not America’s most shining moment and this book brings to life so many of the indignities suffered by those who were born in this country, many second or third generation Americans yet treated as if they were enemies of the state. I thought the author did a great job with the many details of life at that time and the many prejudices toward Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I loved the depiction of a young Henry and Keiko falling in love while listening to jazz music, and their determination to forge a relationship in spite of so many obstacles.

The book also offers a lot of insight into the many problems that Chinese Americans endured in trying to become assimilated into American culture while trying to maintain old traditions and how difficult it was/is for those who have no knowledge of their parent’s lives in another country, and how they feel caught between two worlds.

Although the ending of the book was somewhat predictable, the journey to a satisfying conclusion is well worth the trip. For those who have fond memories of first love this is a book to delight in. I hope to read another book by Mr. Ford in the near future, for this one was a joy to read.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Amazing Read

Play Book Tag has a new game starting August 1st, it's a reading game loosely based on The Amazing Race. If you might be interested all details are here:


Stop by, you might have some fun!

Little Bee

Book No: 37
Title: Little Bee
Author: Chris Cleave
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 7/12/09
No. of Pages: 266
Rating: 4/5*****

This is a portion of the blurb on the inside cover of this book:

“Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.”

Pretty interesting request isn’t it? Yet I have to agree with it, the beauty of this book is in the unfolding. I do need to write a review so I’ll be as informative as I can without revealing too much.

Two British citizens, Sarah and Andrew, are vacationing in Nigeria. They have an encounter on the beach with a young Nigerian girl, the Little Bee of the title, and her sister. What happens on the beach that day will have ramifications for all four of these people; ramifications that completely alter their lives.

Two years later Bee is in a relocation center in England, when she reaches out to Sarah and Andrew, the only people she knows in England and her reappearance in their lives sets off a series of events and revelations that reopen old wounds that were always festering under the surface.

The story is told in alternating chapters from Little Bee’s and Sarah’s point of view. The writing is beautiful and heartbreaking, some of the lines in the book are meant to read over and over. I could not put this book down and read it in one day; I had to know how everything would turn out. The ending isn’t an all’s well that ends well finish, but it is realistic and hopeful.

So you may wonder why not five stars? Honestly it was because of the character of Sarah and her friend Lawrence. I didn’t like them, not at all. They seemed selfish, self absorbed and even when they try to do something good it seems as if there is always an underlying motive. However the character of Little Bee and her story made the whole book for me. I promise that you will think about refugees in a whole new light.

My favorite quote from the book:

“If your face is swollen from the severe beatings of life, smile and pretend to be a fat man.” – Nigerian proverb.

Missing Mark

Book No: 36
Title: Missing Mark
Author: Julie Kramer
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 7/11/09
No. of Pages: 273
Rating: 3/5*****

Second book to feature Riley Spartz, Stalking Susan is the first.

I like Riley Spartz, the investigative reporter for Channel 3 news in Minnesota. I enjoyed Stalking Susan and was looking forward to Missing Mark. Although I liked the book well enough there were some things here that really missed the mark – so to speak.

First and foremost there is an opening scene where a man is found murdered in a house that Riley wants to buy – skip to chapter 2, the murder never comes up again. It just seemed that Riley would investigate this crime, or mention it again, but the next topic for her investigation is the story behind an ad for a never worn wedding dress. It seemed an odd choice for the gutsy Riley. Secondly the ‘mystery’ of the missing bridegroom wasn’t all that interesting or challenging, I had it figured out in about 10 pages. There are two more subplots, one involving a fish stolen from an aquarium and a neighbor who has constant garage sales. The first one was kind of lame and led to a very improbable coincidence near the end of the book and the second one was so obvious that the fact it takes Riley half the book to figure out was a little out of place since she is supposed to be a seasoned investigative reporter.

What saves the book from a little lower rating is the easy reading style and the character of Riley, who is someone you might want to be friends with, and her relationship with retired detective Nick Garnett looks promising. The supporting characters are fun, but in danger of becoming clichéd if there isn’t any growth, but there is potential for that as revealed in the epilogue, a plot device which I am not too fond of.

Overall a light and breezy mystery series, good for a lazy day read.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Play Book Tag - July Tag

I'm an administrator at Play Book Tag, which is a Shelfari group. Every month we choose one of the Top 200 Tags at Shelfari and everyone tries to read a book that fits that tag. This month our tag is American Literature. So if you are interested in reading some AL, or maybe interested in reading some of the reviews please stop by a take a peek. You'll also find some other book chatter as well as information on an upcoming new game involving books, which will start August 1st.

Stalking Susan

Book No: 35
Title: Stalking Susan
Author: Julie Kramer
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 7/10/09
No. of Pages: 308
Rating: 3/5***

Stalking Susan is a debut novel, which looks like a promising start to a new series.

Riley Spartz is an investigative reporter for the local news station in Minneapolis. When one of her sources, Det. Nick Garnett, decides to retire from the police force he gives her his files on a couple of cold cases he believes are related; several women have been murdered, all named Susan and all on the same day. Riley decides to investigate the case and all too soon is up to her neck in trouble.

This was a very quick read and I really enjoyed it. I think the mystery was not the best part of the book, any seasoned reader of this type of book will quickly figure most of it out. What made the book so enjoyable was the appeal of Riley, she has a really interesting back story, she’s smart but doesn’t take herself too serious and she’s got an interesting set of friends and acquaintances that add some comic relief when needed. There is also the obligatory boss from hell and egotistic politicians and authority figures, but it doesn’t feel as cartoonish as some of the other female investigator books out there. There are some moments of real suspense and lots of clever banter between Riley and her buddy Garnett. Julie Kramer is a former television reporter so her insight into all the behind the scenes working of a network added a lot of reality to the novel.

A very enjoyable read and I already have the sequel, Missing Mark, lined up.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Heart of Ice

Book No: 34
Title: Heart of Ice
Author: Gregg Olsen
Genre: Suspense
Completed: 6/2
No. of Pages: 6/28/09
Rating: 4/5*****

I discovered Gregg Olsen last year when I read A Wicked Snow, a very taut and fast paced thriller. At the end of the book was a teaser for his next book. So when I saw Heart of Ice, I picked it up and realized part of the way in that this was actually a different book, a sequel to the book A Cold Dark Place. Normally I would stop reading and get the other book because I hate to read series out of order. I was so caught up in the story already there was no way I was going to stop reading.

Heart of Ice focuses on two separate murder investigations, one involving a missing woman, Mandy Crawford, who Sheriff Emily Kenyon believes has been murdered by her husband, although she only has circumstantial evidence. At the same time a serial killer has been attacking college sorority girls, and soon it becomes clear that Sheriff Kenyon’s daughter Jenna maybe his ultimate target.

Once again this is a suspense book that moves fast and can be very graphic, especially in detailing the brutal childhood of the serial killer. The characters are quite believable although the solution to the serial killer storyline seemed very abrupt, the Mandy mystery had a very believable ending with a good twist.

Two small complaints must be mentioned. One is the idea that this is apparently not the first time that Jenna Kenyon has been the target of a killer, a coincidence that was a little far-fetched. The second is the depiction of the sorority girls, it was very cliché. My daughter is in a sorority that has one of the highest GPA’s in her college and as a whole the Fraternities and Sororities across the country raise millions of dollars for charities every year; so even though this was fiction I wanted to mention that.

Lost in a Good Book

Book No: 33
Title: Lost in a Good Book
Author: Jasper Fforde
Genre: Fantasy
Completed: 6/30/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 3/5*****

I really enjoyed Fforde’s first Thursday Next book, The Eyre Affair, I found it funny and entertaining and loved all the literary references. Lost in a Good Book is also funny and entertaining in spots, it just seemed to have everything thrown into this book, including the kitchen sink. The essential plot seems to involve Thursday trying to get her husband Landon back after he is eradicated by Spec-Ops, but there is so very little of that plot and so many other things going on that the plot line seems to disappear and reappear as needed.

The best parts of the story are when Thursday is jumping into books. Her apprenticeship to Miss Haversham from Great Expectations is extremely funny and entertaining as are her meetings with the Chesire cat and other literary characters - even the lowly appliance manual character. It’s at these times the book shines and I enjoy it the most. But it is very hard to keep all the time jumping, dodo birds, Neanderthals, pink goo, Chronoguards and Goliath villains straight. The name puns wear a little thin after a while too. Jack Schitt isn’t all that funny the 50th time you read it. Most unsatisfying of all is the lack of a resolution to the Landon story line, the book ends with a bit of a cliff hanger.

I already own The Well of Lost Plots, and I will read it eventually, just not too soon.

Green Darkness

Book No: 32
Title: Green Darkness
Author: Anya Seton
Genre: Fiction- Historical/Paranormal
Completed: 6/29/09
No. of Pages: 621
Rating: 3.5/5***

Green Darkness was one of my all time favorite books having read it about 30 years ago. This year I chose to do a re-read, something I rarely ever do; now I know why it’s not a good idea to mess with memories.

According to my copy, an original 1972 copy, this is a story of a great love that spans from 16th century to the present day and a brilliant reconstruction of the Tudor period; only part of that is true.

Green Darkness mixes a story of reincarnation and its roots in a love story from 500 years earlier. The problem for me this time around is I didn’t find the love story all that interesting.

Celia and Richard Marsdon are recent newlyweds and have come to Richard’s family ancestral home; soon the two are acting very differently to each other and during a weekend house party Celia collapses and is hospitalized. While Celia slips deeper and deeper into a catatonic state, one of her guests, Dr. Ankanada, very familiar with past life regression believes this is the only way to help Celia and so we journey back in time to the story of Celia Bohun and Father Steven Marsdon.

The bulk of this story takes place 1552 and 1559, a time of huge upheaval in English history, with the succession of three monarchs, Edward I, Mary and Elizabeth I. The country goes from Protestant to Catholic and back to Protestant in that short time frame. The affect on the ‘regular’ people as well as the nobles and churches is depicted very well and I love the attention to historical detail, much better than some of the more recent historical fiction of this time period I have read. This was without doubt the best part of the book. The problem is the love story between the monk Steven and Celia, a poorer relation to Sir Anthony Browne of Cowdray castle. Celia lives here with her aunt and Steven is the house priest, living in hiding at the start of their story. For being what is the entire lynchpin of this story there was actually very little to the romance and I actually didn’t much care for the two star crossed lovers. Steven was often too sanctimonious and Celia was a selfish and foolish young girl, I felt no connection to either of them. After the ending of their story we are back to the present (1968 in the book) and the resolution of Celia and Richard’s story, which was rather abrupt and a little too perfect.

While I enjoyed the writing, I found the book a little too long, and some of the most important elements of the story seem to happen so fast and are over with in just a few paragraphs. This is not the great love story I remembered, it was just average and ultimately brings the overall rating down. So here is my advice: be careful when going back to an old well loved book, time may change your perspective and tarnish a memory.

The Black Echo

Book No: 31
Title: The Black Echo
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 6/18/09
No. of Pages: 482
Rating: 4/5*****

My first Harry Bosch book was City of Bones, which I read unaware that I was mid-series. I became an instant Michael Connelly fan, and have kept up with the series as well as reading several of his stand alone novels. This year I decided to go back to the start and read those books I missed the first time.

The Black Echo is the first book which introduces us to Harry Bosch, a Vietnam Veteran and world weary detective who seems to have seen too many of the bad things in life but still strives to be a good cop, investigating crimes even when he has to bend the rules and go against the rules, frequently bringing nothing but trouble upon himself.

The storyline involves what appears to be the accidental overdose death of a known junkie. When Harry recognizes the victim as a former Vietnam Vet he begins to dig a little deeper, eventually becoming involved in an FBI investigation that leads to a romantic entanglement and a complex crime that involves far more than murder.

Connelly is terrific in slowly unpeeling the many layers of the investigation, and it’s great fun to watch Harry gradually and methodically but the pieces together. This is a police procedural novel at its best. I have a few little complaints, some of the police characterizations were a little clichéd and over the top, in particular the internal affairs officers, who were a bit buffoonish in their stupidity. The romance angle was okay, I can see two lonely people coming together, but it never felt genuine. Outside of that I found the mystery entertaining and well plotted. The Black Echo is a great introduction to the Bosch series, which I feel keeps getting better with each book.

The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances

Book No: 30
Title: The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances
Author: Mark Millhone
Genre: Memoir
Completed: 6/16/09
No. of Pages: 192
Rating: 3/5*****

Mark Millhone and his family had a tough year, no doubt about it, the near death of their son, the passing of his mother, his father’s cancer diagnosis and his other son was bitten in the face by the family dog. All of these misfortunes have put a huge strain on the family, but most especially his marriage. So how does he deal with it? He buys a used BMW on eBay, leaves his family to fly to Texas with his dad, a man for whom the word stoic was invented, and drive the new car home. I don’t know about anyone else but if my husband did this without telling me I would not be pleased. So it comes as no surprise to me that this trip drives another wedge into the marriage.

While the tone of this book is often funny it is just as often fairly mundane. It’s a short book, with some interesting back story of Mr. Millhone’s upbringing in a clearly dysfunctional family, but for the most part there was no overwhelming feeling that I needed to find out what happened, unlike some other memoirs I have read in the past that were compelling and gripping in their execution. This was a nice, simple, easy read but the ending seems abrupt and while it wasn’t a bad book, it almost could have been a novella or short story because almost nothing really happens. I enjoyed the start of the book and the idea of the book, but in the end it was just okay.

The Blue Notebook

Book No: 29
Title: The Blue Notebook
Author: James A. Levine
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 6/15/09
No. of Pages: 210
Rating: 5/5*****

What an extraordinary book, one that is unrelentingly graphic in its portrayal of the life of a child prostitute, but beautiful in its depiction of the human spirit and the will to survive.

Batuk Ramasdeen is nine years old when she is sold to a sex trader by her father. Sold to the highest bidder looking for a young virgin she is then brought to an ‘orphanage’ where she becomes trained in her new profession. Batuk lives in a small cage on the Common Street, in Mumbai, India; here she is prostituted on a daily basis in exchange for some food and a place to sleep. Using her imagination and her ability to write, a skill she learned while housed in a missionary hospital, Batuk escapes the horrors of her existence by writing and telling stories. It is here that this book shines, for Batuk’s tales are beautifully written and her descriptions of her escape in her mind’s eye are lyrical. The author’s juxtaposition of such beauty in the midst of unrelenting horror cuts to your heart.

When it seems that Batuk’s life may have taken a slight turn for the better, a small flame of hope is ignited in the reader, but our heroine is not so easily fooled. She knows that to most of the people she comes in contact with she is no more than an object to be used; a whore, a bitch, a toy, a dolly but never a human being. She has no illusions about her existence and knows her only escape will be through her stories, which gives her life meaning.

I believe this is the author’s debut; I will certainly be looking for another book by him. In many ways the story reminded me of The Kite Runner, a book that opened my eyes to a world that I know so little about. As an added incentive all proceeds for the U.S. sale of this book will be donated to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children, so by reading this phenomenal piece of fiction you will in some small way help these children.

The Forgotten Garden

Book No: 28
Title: The Forgotten Garden
Author: Kate Morton
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 6/14/09
No. of Pages: 560
Rating: 4/5*****

The Forgotten Garden is a long, sprawling mystery that spans over 100 years, loaded with Gothic undertones. We have a spooky old Victorian mansion, an overgrown maze, a derelict cottage on a cliff, a forgotten garden, wealth, poverty, love, betrayal, good and evil all wrapped around an abandoned child.

Told through the perspectives of three women, Nell who is found when she is four years old, abandoned on a dock in Australia, with very sparse clues to her identity; Eliza who is the mysterious Authoress whom Nell vaguely remembers and whose book of fairy Tales is in Nell’s tiny suitcase and Cassandra, Nell’s granddaughter, who tries to put together all the pieces of the puzzle after her grandmother’s death.

I really enjoyed this story, I enjoy multi-generational family sagas and I found this one to be absorbing and well written and I liked the mystery and all the introduction of little clues. The changes in the perspectives could get a little confusing at times, and it would be hard to leave one story that was really getting interesting, to be taken back to another time and place but after a while I got accustomed to that. The best part of the book were the fairy tales written by The Authoress, lovely but spooky stories that all have clues to the mystery of Nell’s identity. I also enjoyed Ms. Morton’s inclusion of Frances Hodgson Burnett as a minor character, an obvious tip of the hat to the author of The Secret Garden, which clearly inspired portions of this book.

I didn’t care for the male characters in the book, they all seemed ephemeral and weak, but I’ve read many a book where the women were relegated to the background, so it didn’t really spoil my enjoyment of this book. Overall a very good read.

Pardonable Lies

Book No: 27
Title: Pardonable Lies
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Completed: 6/08/09
No. of Pages: 340
Rating: 4/5*****

Pardonable Lies is the 3rd entry in the Maisie Dobbs series and again the author creates an atmospheric novel, set in the times between the two world wars.

Maisie Dobbs is an investigator/psychologist who is asked to look into 3 cases, a young girl accused of murdering her stepfather, a man who wishes to know for certain his son died in the Great War and her close friend Priscilla Partridge asks her to locate where her brother Peter died during his time in service. Slowly the three cases become entwined and Maisie must face her own memories of the war. With her life at risk her admiration and friendship with her mentor Maurice Blanche is put to an extreme test and her faith is badly shaken.

Winspear really knows how to evoke an era of class structure, a nation still in recovery from the destruction inflicted by a World War, of people and families destroyed, damaged and haunted by the conflict. The characters, particularly Maisie are so well developed; there are so many shades of gray – nobody is all good or all evil. Some lies are pardonable when there is a no win situation.

The writing is very well done and the mysteries are complex and brought to satisfying conclusions. I did have a problem with the solution to the last mystery, it seemed a little “Nancy Drew” like, but that is my sole complaint in a gem of an addition to a wonderful series.

Lessons in Heartbreak

Book No: 26
Title: Lessons in Heartbreak
Author: Cathy Kelly
Genre: Chick-lit
Completed: 6/07/09
No. of Pages: 435
Rating: 3/5*****

Lessons in Heartbreak is chick lit trying to be family saga/historical fiction/ social commentary all tied up in one uneven package. It is the story of three women from one family and their struggles with heartbreak. The overriding theme through it all is adultery from three different perspectives. We learn the stories of Izzie a thoroughly modern woman working in NYC and struggling to understand how she became entangled in a love affair with a married man; Anneleise a woman coming to terms with the end of her marriage after her husband leaves her for her best friend and Lily, Izzie’s ninety year old grandmother who falls ill still harboring her own secret of an affair during World War II.

The tales of these three women is told in alternating voices and the jumping back and forth in narration can be jarring at times, just as you are deeply involved in one story you are thrust back to another. Although the characters of the women are delved into in good detail most of the men are rather stereotypical and one dimensional. By far the most interesting story in the entire book is Lily’s, as it touches on a lot of the class distinctions of England and Ireland that kept many people in servant class, unable to break free of their place in life because of the family they were born into. Lily’s refusal to be cast in that mold made for the most engaging story. Izzie was interesting only when she was in the work place, almost everything about her involving her love affair was cliché and predictable. The character of Anneleise was irritating at best and although she was presented as a counter balance - providing the voice of the woman left as opposed to the other woman, in the final analysis she took all the blame for the failure of her marriage, relieving the straying husband of all culpability; I think it would have been a more interesting story if she was shown as a really strong woman instead of the annoying character she was.

This book is marketed as a story of an Irish girl, but there is almost none of that feel to the book, it could have been set anywhere at all there is no Irish atmosphere present, although many portions of the book set there. One other small annoyance was the constant use of the word darling, if I read it once I read it a couple of dozen times.

Although I found some of the narrative engrossing overall the book was just okay, garnering three stars because of Lily’s story, which is what kept me turning the pages.

The Graveyard Book

Book No: 25
Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy
Completed: 5/31/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 5/5*****

Neil Gaiman is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. I recently read Coraline, my first Gaiman, and I loved it. Now I have completed the Graveyard Book and thought it was brilliant!

Although this book is fantasy and filled with ghosts, ghouls witches, hellhounds and more it is really a story of a boy trying to find his way in the world. Nobody “Bod” Owens is orphaned after his family is murdered and he somehow escapes the killer and wanders into the graveyard adjoining his home. Taken in by the ghosts residing in there he is given the freedom of the graveyard and is raised by his parents the Owens’ and a guardian Silas, who provides for him because he can leave the graveyard and wander the world as a human; although never stated he is probably a vampire. Bod must remain in the graveyard because it is only here he can be protected by the killer who is still after him, for reasons that are not made known until late in the story.

The tale is told in a series of vignettes that most children can relate to – learning to spell and read, making friends, going to school, a first love and unexpected loss. It is all told in suspenseful, funny, and touching way with a good amount of horror but also a lot of love, Bod for his ‘family’ and guardian and they for him. The ending was so touching and bittersweet I actually cried. That’s a rare book that can touch me so much.

I listened to the audio version, which was read by the author himself. He brings so much to the storytelling and has one of the best (and sexiest) voices ever. I am going to pick up the hardcover version, but this audio is certainly one than can be listened to again and again. Shortly after I finished the book it was announced that it had won Audible of the Year and I can say it was very well deserved. Well done Mr. Gaiman.

Summer Blowout

Book No: 24
Title: Summer Blowout
Author: Clare Cook
Genre: Chick Lit
Completed: 5/26/09
No. of Pages: 242
Rating: 3/5*****

I’ve read Must Love Dogs by Ms. Cook and generally enjoyed it. This book however seemed like a re-hash of that book, although not quite as charming.

We have Bella, recently divorced, part of a rather large and slightly eccentric family with step-mothers, step-siblings, an over the top father, it all feels ‘been there, done that’. It has some appealing moments, including Bella’s dog-napping of her one true friend Precious the Chihuahua. There is a meet cute of who is obviously the soon to be new man in Bella’s life, complications with the ex who is now with her sister, but it all seems a little forced. It was an appealing little book, pure fluff and nice for a day at the beach.

As a side note I found the constant product mentions very distracting- MAC, Maybelline, Paul Mitchell, OPI - with no signs of stopping, it was kind of annoying after awhile.
Cute but forgettable.